Head count shows 'unusually high' discrepancies at charter schools

When state auditors made a surprise visit to a Youngstown charter school, they found staff members but no students. Not one.

The students, auditors were told, had been dismissed at 12:30 p.m. after taking a practice graduation test. The Academy for Urban Scholars Youngstown said it had 95 students.

A report released yesterday by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost found significantly lower attendance at half of the 30 charter schools where auditors conducted unannounced head counts this past fall.

The report raises questions about whether the schools receive more tax money than they are entitled because the state relies on student enrollment — reported by the schools — to calculate aid. The privately operated, publicly funded schools get nearly $6,000 per student each year.

“I’m really kind of speechless of everything that I found. It’s quite a morass,” Yost said during a Statehouse news conference.

Among those with the widest gap was Capital High School, 640 Harrisburg Pike, Columbus. The school reported 298 students; auditors counted 142, fewer than half.

School officials did not return a call from The Dispatch yesterday; however, they told auditors that their average daily attendance was 55 to 60 percent, fairly consistent with what investigators found.

Gateway Academy on Kimberly Parkway North in Columbus reported 100 students but auditors counted 52, with 20 students absent.

“They came during lunch, and we only had two classes” in session. Many students were at lunch, some outside the building, said Hydia Green, Gateway principal and superintendent. “To get a true count in my building, you need to come after lunch.”

Classes start at 7:30 a.m. at the school serving students in grades 7 to 12, but many arrive late. To accommodate them and others, the school offers blended learning, in which students can get their lessons online, Green said.

Ohio has about 300 charter schools. Of the 30 examined,

16 had enrollment discrepancies of more than 10 percent.

(Read more at the Dispatch)